Briefly Disappearing Kids

by doodaddy on May 5, 2009

Boo disappeared from my sight today. But it’s cool.

20090412-118
Alone, outside.
Except for the photographer, of course.

We were out in front of the house during a rare break in the rain — this year, May is pretending it’s November. I was weeding and Boo scooted her pushbike up and down the block. (Or, if you believe her, from “the store” to “London.”)

Nothing distracts my daughter like an animal, and sure enough, she followed the neighbor cat from two houses away to a favorite perch on its porch — out of my sight.

We know the neighbors on whose porch Boo was now sitting. It’s a blind passage; no way out except back to the street. The neighbors had in fact just left, so I was sure (rationally) that no random homeless hiker maniac bandit was hiding in the door jamb. We even know the cat.

To summarize: Boo was in a safe place with no outlet, just 30 feet away from me, within earshot, hanging out with a cat. But she was essentially on the street, and certainly invisible to me.

So I let her stay there.

Oh, sure, I checked on her once, but not right away. And then she called me once to help her detangle the cat’s claw from her glove. But apart from that I let my three-year old girl stay by herself (on the street, did I mention?) for at least 20 minutes.

Don’t think I wasn’t crazy-anxious. I have never weeded so apprehensively — or inaccurately, since I was mostly staring at the walkway where Boo should reappear. And my imagination — of abductors sweeping down from the roof on invisible pterodactyls, for example — is fantastic at overcoming the simple fact that Boo was in no possible danger.

I’m not really sure, then, why I let her stay there, hidden, on her own, if I was so nervous. Were the weeds so important?

* * *

Back when I was teaching outdoor education, my groups would almost universally report that their favorite activity out of a half-week of hiking and playing games was the “solo hike,” and especially the nighttime one. Just like today, I would put kids into a safe setting — a familiar, flat stretch of trail with no offshoots — and let them walk it on their own, meeting a teacher at the end.

For that ten minutes or so, the kids were out of sight of all other people, just wandering in the outdoors. That never happens anymore for kids — or adults, for that matter. I can’t remember the last time I sat at the top of a hill and just let the wind wash over me. "Nature deficit disorder," Richard Louv called it, and though I hate sloganeering I still have to admit that he’s right.

So I swallowed my nerves and let Boo’s lonely moment happen. And I’ll continue to let them happen, when I can, safely. I’ll let her wander past my comfort zone down the beach. She’ll be all the sharper because when we’re hiking I let her turn the next bend in the trail without me.

Just one bend, though, for now. Just one.

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tagged as in community,nature,worry ·

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Malke Rosenfeld May 5, 2009 at 7:24 am

I distinctly remember being four and walking down the sidewalk next to a fence. I felt so grown-up and independent. My mom was probably some distance behind me, but my 4-year-old pride and enjoyment at being alone stays with me to this day. I think it’s really important for kids to feel self-sufficiency and that is why I let my daughter (almost 4) hang out by herself (for a little while) in the front of the house at the top of the yard and also in the backyard (I can see her from inside). If I’m gardening in the front, she’s fine in the back. I know these places are essentially safe and I also know that these days she yearns for any chance to be in control of her destiny. We’re doing our kids a big favor by trusting the times and spaces when it’s safe for them to be in the world alone.

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Nan May 5, 2009 at 8:52 am

Yikes! Good for you, Dad, but … um…. not on the beach unless she’s good at obeying the RULE about not going in the sea without a grownup. I am having palpitations just thinking about it!

We say “can you go in up to your toes?”

“No!” they reply.

“Can you go in to rescue your brother?”

“No! We scream and call a grownup!”

“Can you go in to get the prettiest shell in the world?”

“No!”

“Can you go in to rescue your favorite hat that’s blown in to the sea?”

“No, we can buy a new hat but we CAN’T buy a new me!”

You know me, I don’t have that many rules. It makes the few we do have, easier to remember. The sea can be extremely dangerous. It can turn from a nice ankle-deep paddle into a sucking scary thing in no time.

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doodaddy May 5, 2009 at 8:55 am

@Nan – The ocean doesn’t suck anyone in, though — and best to learn how it *does* behave when you’re little, don’t you think?

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Nan May 6, 2009 at 3:55 am

Definitely. We spend plenty of time in the ocean together, but I almost lost one in a VERY sneaky undertow. *shudders*. He was only in up to his knees and one more step took him down fast. And this was a boy who could swim! I got to him in the nick of time. We get very bad undertows here. Every public holiday there is at least one drowning on the Manzanilla Coast. So I am paranoid!

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